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Conquering Persistent Coughs

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Speech therapy in Duluth for chronic coughing and throat clearing

“A chronic cough can be debilitating,” said St. Luke’s Speech Language Pathologist Keri Halverson, CCC-SLP. “It can be burdensome on a person's quality of life and ability to do daily tasks. It can lead to changes in voice quality causing hoarseness or strain. It can even become part of their identity, where they’re recognized more by their cough than them as an individual.”

A cough is considered chronic if it lasts more than 8 weeks for adults and 4 weeks for kids. Various conditions, such as asthma, rhinitis and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), contribute to this issue by causing throat irritation. The natural reaction is to address this irritation by coughing. However, this only leads to more irritation which ends in more coughing, creating a frustrating cycle.

For those whose cough or throat clearing persists despite medical treatment, a speech language pathologist can help. “Speech therapy aims to increase voluntary control of the cough and reduce cough-reflex sensitivity and frequency,” said Keri. “This starts with getting to what a person’s triggers are.”

Triggers include:

  • Environmental factors (perfumes, dust, smoke, etc.)
  • Internal issues (laryngopharyngeal reflux disease, post-nasal drip, allergies)
  • Exertion (physical exercise)
  • Stress or emotional situations (anxiety)
  • Lower airway disease (asthma)

After identifying triggers, therapy targets lifestyle modifications, cough suppression strategies, and ways to improve and maintain vocal health.

“Speech therapy can help with so much more than just speech,” said Keri. “In addition to cough suppression therapy, we can also help with all aspects of communication, swallowing disorders and other upper airway disorders. It is rewarding to empower patients and play a positive role on their quality of life."

A referral is required for this service. If you need one, talk to your primary care provider. To establish care with a St. Luke’s primary care provider, call 218.249.4000 or find a clinic near you.